Consider this troubling fact: an analysis of blogs that focus on denying climate change found that 80% of those blogs got their information from a single primary source. Worse, this source—a single individual who claims to be a “polar bear expert”—is no expert at all; they possess no formal qualifications and have conducted no research on polar bears.
No matter what side of the debate you are on, this should concern you. Arguments built on false premises don’t help anyone, regardless of their beliefs or political leanings. But does this sort of widespread misinformation—involving the mere repetition of information across many sources—actually affect people's beliefs?
To find out, we asked research participants to read news articles about topics that involved different governmental policies. In one experiment, participants read an article claiming that Japan’s economy would not improve, as well as one or more articles claiming the economy would improve. Unbeknownst to our participants, they were divided into three groups. The first group read four articles claiming the economy was going to improve—and importantly, each of these articles cited a different source. The second group read the same four articles, except in this case, all of the articles cited the same source (just like the climate-change-denying blogs all cite the same “expert”). And to establish a point of comparison for the other groups, the third group of participants read just one article claiming the economy would continue to improve.
You might expect that when information is corroborated by multiple independent sources, it is much more likely to sway people’s opinions. If this is the case, then people who read four articles that each cited a unique source should be very certain that Japan’s economy will continue to improve. Furthermore, if people pay attention to the original sources of the information they read, then those who read four articles that all cited exactly the same source should be less certain (because that information was repeated but not corroborated). And, finally, people who read only one article claiming Japan’s economy will improve should be the least certain.
Indeed, people were much more likely to believe that Japan’s economy would improve when they heard it from four unique sources than when they read only one article. But, surprisingly, people who read four articles all citing the same source were just as confident in their conclusions. Our participants seemed to pay attention only to the number of times the information was repeated without considering where the information came from. Why?
Perhaps people assume that when one person is cited repeatedly, that person is the one, true expert on that topic. But, in a follow-up study, we asked other participants exactly this question: all else equal, would you rather hear from five independent sources or one single source? Unsurprisingly, most believed that more sources were better. But here's the shocking part: when those same participants then completed the task described above, they still believed the repeated information that all came from the same source just as much as independently sourced information—even for those who had just said they would prefer multiple independent sources.
These results show that as we form opinions, we are influenced by the number of times we hear information repeated. Even when many claims can be traced back to a single source, we do not treat these claims as if we had heard them only once; we act as if multiple people had come to the same conclusion independently. This “illusion of consensus” presumably applies to virtually all the information that we encounter, including debates about major societal issues like gun control, vaccination, and climate change. We need to be aware of how simple biases like these affect our beliefs and behavior so that we can be better community members, make informed voting decisions, and fully participate in debates over the public good.
We wanted to finish this article with a fun fact concerning the massive amount of information that people are exposed to each day. So, we asked Google: "How much information do we take in daily?", and we got a lot of answers. Try it for yourself. You'll see source after source that says you consume about 34 gigabytes of information each day. You may not know exactly how much 34 gigabytes is, but it sure sounds like a lot, and several sources told you so.
What's the problem? All of these sources circle back to a single primary source. And, despite our best efforts, we weren't able to find an original source that was able to back-up these claims at all. If we weren't careful, it would have been easy to step away believing something that might not be true—and only because that information was repeated several times.
So, next time you hear a rumor or watch the news, think about it. Take one moment and ask, simply, "Where is this information coming from?"
- By Sami Yousif, Rosie Aboody, and Frank Keil
Sami Yousif is a graduate student at Yale University. His research primarily focuses on how we see, make sense of, and navigate the space around us. In his spare time, he also studies how we (metaphorically) navigate a world of overabundant information.
Rosie Aboody is a graduate student at Yale University. She studies how we learn from others. Specifically, she’s interested in how children and adults decide what others know, who to learn from, and what to believe.
Frank Keil is a professor of psychology at Yale University and the director of the Cognition and Development lab. At the most general level, he is interested in how we come to make sense of the world around us.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading:
Yousif, S. R., Aboody, R., & Keil, F. C. (2019). The illusion of consensus: a failure to distinguish between true and false consensus. Psychological Science, 30, 1195-1204.
When you think about what you might learn by completing a PhD, it’s natural that you might focus on the most obvious outcome: expertise in the research topic. Sure, it is true that by the end of your PhD you will know a lot about your chosen topic but what you might not realise is that, along the way, you will also learn other important skills that are completely unrelated to the research topic. Here are the top 3 things that I learnt:
1. Dealing with uncertainty
By the very nature of a research PhD, you aren’t sure what the outcome of your research is going to be when you start. The reason why you are doing the research in the first place is to answer an as yet unanswered question! Importantly however, you will realise that while sometimes your studies work out and sometimes they don’t, your PhD rolls on regardless of the outcome. So you learn to deal with the uncertainty and push on. This is a great skill to have when you are starting a new job or a new project. During such times you will inevitably feel unsure or uncertain but knowing that, with hard work and perseverance, the moment will pass is reassuring.
2. Dealing with the imposter syndrome
I originally titled this sub-heading ‘Overcoming the imposter syndrome’ but that would not be true. By the end of my PhD I had not overcome the imposter syndrome but I did get to a place where it would not stop me from doing what needed to be done. What I learnt was that EVERYONE suffers from imposter syndrome, from students through to professors. Those that succeed in their careers have simply learnt how to ‘handle it’. Some tips that have helped me to ‘handle it’ are:
3. Time and project management skills
For 99% of people, completing a PhD will be the longest, hardest and most complex project that they have undertaken in their career to date. So don’t underestimate the skills that you gain in terms of time and project management. You might have to learn some of those lessons the hard-way but by the end of your PhD you will have a greater understanding of what it takes to manage your time and what project management systems (software, lists, charts etc) work for you.
In the end, like an increasing number of PhD graduates, I now have a job outside of academia unrelated to my PhD topic. Not once have I felt that those years were wasted. I use the skills that I learnt and draw almost daily from the countless amazing people that I met throughout my PhD. And mostly I am grateful for the opportunities that completing a PhD afforded me, beyond my topic expertise. And if you ever need to talk to an expert in community engagement with stormwater imagery – you know where to find me ;-)
- By Tracy Schultz
The grass is not always greener in my neighbor’s garden… At least, that’s what people seem to think. In fact, when asked about others’ opinions toward sexual minorities’ issues, people tend to overestimate the level of intolerance in their society regardless of their personal views. In Switzerland, for example, residents thought that most other residents, including their neighbors, were intolerant toward same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. Yet, this was not the case; Swiss residents were actually much more tolerant than what people thought (Eisner, Spini, & Sommet, 2019; Eisner, Turner-Zwinkels, Hässler, & Spini, 2019).
You wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this perception of intolerance might impact on sexual and gender minorities’ well-being. To illustrate, perceptions of an intolerant climate toward sexual and gender minorities might raise expectations of rejection and, therefore, lead to concealment of one’s sexual orientation/gender identity and internalization of stigma. Moreover, perceptions of an intolerant climate might also affect social change processes themselves. Indeed, if you perceive that others in your society are intolerant of sexual and gender minorities, you might be discouraged from engaging in support for social change: “People aren’t ready for social change, thus, a social movement won’t be successful. So, let’s wait a little bit longer before pushing toward greater equality for sexual and gender minorities”. On the other hand, the intolerance you perceive might make you angry. This may lead you to believe that social change cannot be achieved without action: “This situation makes me so angry, we need to engage now because the situation is not getting better”. Hence, perceptions of intolerance could discourage or encourage support for social change.
What did we do?
While perceived climate might be relevant in all social movements, perception of others’ intolerance might particularly impact countries in which there are striking legal disparities. In Switzerland (and this might surprise you) sexual and gender minorities still suffer from many legal discriminations, such as being denied the right to marry and adopt. The legal discrimination goes so far that a single person can adopt a child, but as soon as you are in a registered same-sex partnership, you are not allowed to adopt children anymore. Importantly, while both sexual and gender minorities face many legal inequalities, the legal challenges of both groups are different.
The present research was tailored to sexual minorities (e.g. homo-, bi-, pansexual people) since up-coming public voting regarding same-sex marriage affects sexual minorities. We tested the basic question of whether perceiving intolerant others discourages and/or encourages support for social change toward greater equality for sexual minorities in Switzerland. We gathered answers in our online questionnaire from sexual minorities (1220 participants) and cis-heterosexuals  (239 participants).
What did we find?
Perceiving others to be intolerant actually has a paradoxical impact on one’s support for social change:
What does this mean?
Our research shows that the following detrimental effects of perception of an intolerant climate on support for social change must be key considerations when mobilizing for social change:
- Léïla Eisner & Tabea Hässler
This blog post is based on: Eisner, L., Spini, D., & Sommet, N., (2019). A Contingent Perspective on Pluralistic Ignorance: When the Attitude Object Matters. International Journal of Public Opinion Research. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijpor/edz004
Eisner, L., Turner-Zwinkels, F., Hässler, T., & Spini, D., (2019). Pluralistic Ignorance of Societal Norms about Sexual Minorities. Manuscript under review; Eisner, L., Hässler, T., & Settersten, R. (2019). It’s time, act up for equality: Perceived societal norms and support for social change in the sexual minority context. Manuscript in preparation.
 The term cis-heterosexuals denotes heterosexual individuals whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned sex.
Lean in! Take a seat at the table! Show the will to lead! Women are often told that this is the way to get ahead in the workplace and overcome inequality. So, what opportunities are available for women in academia to lean in? We know that, within academia, women are more likely to be asked, and to take on, so-called service roles. These roles might indeed lead to a seat at the table, but research shows that these roles are often under-valued when it comes to career progression. But if you’re asked to take on a leadership role – or if, like me, you actually like academic leadership – how can you ensure that ‘leaning in’ enhances your career?
Here are six ‘top tips’ gleaned from my experiences:
1. Be selective
In academia, women are more likely to be asked to take on more ‘nurturing’ roles. This often reflects commonly held stereotypes about what both women and men are ‘good at’. But I’ve found that academic leadership works best if you’re genuinely passionate about your role. When I took on the role of Director of Education in 2012, I truly believed that we could do things better in the department and wanted to focus my energies to improve the student experience. For other people (and I’m going to name drop some of my amazing colleagues here) their passion might be promoting increased access to higher education (Lisa Leaver – also speaking in Soapbox Science Exeter 2019) or promoting women in science (Safi Darden – one of the amazing Soapbox Science organisers).
If you’re asked to take on a leadership role, don’t be afraid to negotiate (especially if it’s clear that none of your colleagues want the role!). Many women don’t negotiate because they recognise, consciously or subconsciously, that negotiating is fraught for women in ways that it is not for men. Indeed, research suggests that women are equally likely to negotiate than men (e.g., asking for a raise), but are much less likely to be successful. Sadly, you are unlikely to get a pay raise for taking on an academic leadership role, but you might be able to negotiate for other benefits, such as a period of study leave at the end of your tenure or additional research support or access to training opportunities (e.g., the Aurora program).
Full disclosure here: I am very bad at delegating…but this was one of the key lessons I took from my first leadership role as Director of Education into my second role as Director of Research. There are many reasons why it’s important to delegate: if you don’t, and you try to do everything yourself, you will burn out! But delegation is also about communicating trust and confidence in the people around you – that you believe that they will do a good job (even if it’s not exactly the way you would do it!). Delegation is about empowering others. So, if people offer help – take it!
4. Say no
Full disclosure again: I find it very hard to say no…but we (women) need to do it more often. Throughout my career, I’ve often been rewarded for saying ‘yes’ – sometimes this has led to new collaborations or opportunities and people like you more if you do. But as you progress in your career, saying no to some things allows you to say yes to other things. In the last year, I’ve had a ‘no support group’ with some of my friends – each week we share the tasks we’ve said no to, and we congratulate each other on how we’ve protected our time or saved ourselves from a future obligation.
5. But it is OK to say yes
As I’ve said, I find it hard to say no, and often end up saying yes. I confessed this to my ‘support group’ and my very wise friend noted four considerations when deciding whether to say yes. First, could the person do it themselves, even if it’s inconvenient or difficult? Second, can you do it without neglecting your own responsibilities, relationships, or self-care? Third, are you happy to do it or will you resent it later? Finally, will it help them to be independent or will it make them more dependent in the future? By thinking about these questions, you might find yourself saying yes to optional tasks, but you will be more mindful about it.
6. Do it well
To return to the idea of ‘leaning in’, it’s not enough to take your seat and keep it warm. For academic leadership to enhance your career, you need to get stuff done and make a difference. When you take on a role, take time to think about how you can make your workplace a better place (however you define better) and how you can achieve it. Make sure that your achievements are visible (to help your career) and ensure that you’ve put structures in place that will make any impact sustainable after you leave the role (see #3).
Being an academic leader is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of my job – every day I feel like I’m making an important contribution to my discipline and I get to support my colleagues, especially early career researchers, to achieve their goals.
- Guest post by Joanne Smith (Twitter: @jorosmith)
Joanne Smith is an Associate Professor and Director of Research in the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter. She was also Director of Education from 2012-2014. Joanne studies how the groups that we belong to influence our behaviour and how we can harness insights from social psychology to promote behaviour change. She studies social influence and behaviour change across multiple domains, with a focus on health and sustainable behaviour. Joanne will take part in our Soapbox Science Exeter event, on Saturday 29th July 2019. There she will talk about “With friends like these: How groups influence our behaviour for better…or for worse”.
This blog post is previously published on Soapbox Science
When groups of people actively help each other (“intergroup prosociality”), what is the driving force? Are all types of helping motivated by the same psychological processes? In a recent paper, we delved into these questions by reviewing what we know of intergroup prosociality from a psychological perspective
Benevolent support or political activism?
When we think of all the ways that people show concern for others, we may start listing things like donating to international aid campaigns, listening to stories of suffering with empathy, or marching in a rally to bring about more equitable conditions for a disadvantaged group. Do all of these stem from the same values or beliefs? In this paper, we argue that there are two different ways people engage in inter-group prosociality - benevolence and activism.
Benevolence aims to compassionately alleviate the suffering of others. Acts such as charitable giving, or listening empathetically to the painful experiences of others would fall under this category.
Activism aims to create change in social and political systems to bring about greater equality. The focus here is the recognition of harm and disadvantage brought on by systems, and working to challenge these systems through group-level action. Many types of collective action fall into this category.
This distinction forms the basis through which we view how groups of people engage in various forms of prosociality. But of course, there are complexities!
For example, how should charitable giving be categorised? – Is it benevolence, activism, or both?
While charitable giving has been mostly studied in a way that lends itself to the benevolence definition we provided, charitable giving can also be motivated by motives to bring about equality, and giving to charities that are most likely to bring about structural social change. This argument complicates our traditional view of charitable giving and presents evidence that charitable giving can be both!
And what about intergroup contact – What does it have to do with intergroup prosociality?
Intergroup contact refers to exchanges between individuals of two different groups, and when it is positive, it has been shown to reduce the prejudice of advantaged group members towards stigmatized groups. Positive contact could be argued to be associated with benevolence rather than activism.
Yet recent research on contact has shown that positive contact between advantaged and disadvantaged groups, while reducing the prejudice of advantaged group members, also weakens the disadvantaged groups’ motivations to engage in activism on their own behalf. In this way, contact can reinforce the inequality between advantaged and disadvantaged groups.
So what is the solution? Is the choice between mobilizing the disadvantaged group or reducing the prejudice of advantaged groups? Not necessarily. Recent work shows that when the advantaged group acknowledges the inequality and explicitly supports social change, it promotes both groups’ activism as well as positive attitudes. This type of contact has been termed supportive contact.
Finally, is there a distinction between allyship and solidarity?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, we make the argument that it might be useful to think about how the motives for the two are different. In Allyship, the advantaged group is helping the disadvantaged group because of some benefit to themselves, for example for their own political aims, to conform to their own group’s norms, or to act out their values. However, when one group stands in solidarity with another, it can mean that they feel identified with that group. In other words, allies might feel part of a larger group together with the people they are helping (“we are all Australian”, or “we all want gender equality”). If there are two different types of motives, we can look at which ones are more common, last longer, or are more likely to spur real change. For example, maybe allyship motives are more common, but solidarity motives are stronger and more likely to lead to social transformation!
The paper also highlights an exciting and emerging trend in solidarity research to move beyond advantaged and disadvantaged group dynamics, and look at how disadvantaged groups engage in solidarity with each other.
For those interested in intergroup relations, this paper details the many ways groups engage in prosociality with one and other. It provides a detailed review of the research and a helpful way to understand and distinguish between benevolence and activism when we consider the ways groups engage in helping with each other. We look forward to any feedback!
- Zahra Mirnajafi
This blog post is based on: Louis, W. R., Thomas, E., Chapman, C. M., Achia, T., Wibisoni, S., Mirnajafi, Z., & Droogendyk, L. (2019). "Emerging research on intergroup prosociality: Group members' charitable giving, positive contact, allyship, and solidarity with others." Social and Personality Psychology Compass 13(3): e12436.
Activists are time and resource poor. They create social change by making quick decisions in stressful conditions, and often suffer disproportionately for their efforts.
Given the urgency of our social and environmental challenges, linking activists with the latest research on topics ranging from how to engage in effective communication, to tactical decision making, to activist self-care, is more important than ever. Yet this research is mostly hidden behind paywalls or it is time consuming to acquire and apply. Thankfully, digital technologies offer a new opportunity to bridge the activist-researcher. Throughout my time here in the Social Change Lab, I’ve experimented with piloting effective research dissemination. This has lead me to the development of my website, www.earthactivists.com.au. This website began as a communication vehicle for various projects created during my time as a fellow in the University of Queensland Digital Research Fellowship program.
The website is based on an initial dataset of 497 Australian environmental groups and 901 environmental campaigns. Mapped through the Esri ArcGIS online platform, the data and associated map will allow activists to easily view campaigns across all environmental issues, compare the data available on them, and track the campaign outcomes over time. Combined with archives collected on past environmental campaigns, one goal of the project is to create an open and accessible ‘treasure chest’ of information on Australia’s rich and diverse environmental movement.
Open data can inform what type of activism is more likely to succeed; for example, data collected on over 100 years of protests demonstrates the surprising success rate of non-violent civil resistance as opposed to violence insurgencies. But it can also help enable stronger and more connected activists, reducing the ‘activist fatigue’ experienced through isolation and burnout. To this end, the website hosts stories of women fighting climate change. It also provides insights from experienced environmental campaigners on the highs and lows of activism, how they define success, and how they prioritise and acquire resources for their work.
This website, still in its nascent stage, has been informed by international examples of accessible and open data on social change movements. One of the most influential of these examples is the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes Data Project (NAVCO). This publically available dataset, initiated by Erica Chenoweth, has generated findings of international significance about the importance of non-violence civil resistance, and initiated a new research direction in civil resistance.
Another successful open data initiative is that of the Environmental Justice Atlas (ejatlas.com). Centred on a global map of large scale environmental civil resistance campaigns, the project aims to both serve as a tool for informing activism and advocacy, and to foster increased academic research on the topic. Containing information on 2,100 environmental justice case studies, this project has international collaborators both contributing to new case studies and utilising existing studies for their activism and research.
These examples demonstrate the new ways digital technology can be used as a bridge between activists and researchers. We have such a rich history of activists and activism around the globe. Collecting and sharing detailed empirical data about social and environmental collective action can help celebrate the work of those who fought for social and environmental justice in the past. But equally importantly, it can help inform how we can generate the urgent action we need to secure our future. In this time of crisis, bringing activists and researchers together is one more important than ever.
- Robyn Gulliver
As for many other nations, gender equality in Australia has increased significantly over the last century. By 1923, all women in Australia had the right to vote and stand for parliament. In 1966, women earned the right to continue employment in the public sector after marriage through the removal of the marriage bar (a ruling that barred women from working in many careers after marriage). Female workers in Australia were granted the right to equal pay in 1969, and the 1996 Workplace Relations Act required men and women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Whilst inequalities do persist, (e.g., the average Australian woman is earning 85c for every dollar earned by men) there is considerable support for gender equality in the public sphere. However, there is less support for gender equality in private life. An Australian attitudes survey found that 16% of Australians believe men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household, 25% of Australians believe that women prefer men to be in charge of the relationship, and 34% believe it’s natural for a man to want to appear to be in control of his partner in front of his male friends.
This issue of gender inequality in the public versus the private sphere has come to the forefront of public discussion recently. The debate around the equal distribution of household chores and caregiving responsibilities is occurring both here and abroad. Heterosexual Australian women average seven hours more housework per week than their male partners. This inequality often starts in childhood, with female children often expected to take on more chores than their male siblings. In adult relationships, habits started in the early stages of the relationship can further increase unequal responsibilities. In this stage, women are more likely to be at home looking after children and cleaning up the house. This dynamic continues even after the female partner returns to work.
Early exposure to unequal gender roles and failure to establish equitable dynamics in the early stages of the relationship, can lead to unequal expectations of men and women in romantic relationships. There is light being shed on the double standard regarding expectations of men and women. For example, men are praised for completing chores and looking after their children, when women are simply expected to do these things. As one father noted, the disproportionate praise heaped on men for simply interacting with or looking after their children is not only unfair for women, but condescending to men.
Not only do these disparities reinforce unequal gender roles, limiting both men and women, but they may play a role in domestic abuse. When the onus of responsibility for domestic tasks is put onto women, this expectation may be used to justify abusive responses to a failure to maintain standards. For example, if a house is untidy, or a child gets sick or injured, instead of simply acknowledging it as something that happens, it can be viewed as the female partner’s fault, and the female partner’s failure to fulfil their role. Obviously, this is not the case for most relationships, but inequality in the home may be seen by some as legitimising abuse.
Unequal home dynamics may also alter the perceptions of work. For example, even if both partners in a heterosexual relationship engage in paid work, emphasis on the female partner’s domestic responsibilities reinforces the idea that the man should be the primary income earner. This also highlights that his career is more important than hers. If the woman’s income or career success exceeds her partner’s, this may result in her partner reinforcing greater inequality in the home in an attempt to retain a feeling of power and control.
The recent public discussion of gender equitable distribution of domestic responsibilities raises the question: Why did it take so much longer for equality in the home to become a priority in a nation that prides itself on progressive attitudes regarding gender equality? Perhaps the persistence of gender inequality in the home reflects residual hidden sexism in a culture where the beliefs may not have held pace with changing public norms.
- Kiara Minto
People often categorise themselves as either politically conservative or liberal. From a social psychological perspective, we often categorise ourselves and compare ourselves with other people. We like to identify who we are, and we do this by distinguishing ourselves from people who belong to other groups.
Conservatism and liberalism are opposite ends of the political spectrum; in our perception nowadays, they are worlds apart. However, conservatism and liberalism are relative, and sometimes even cultural. For example, people in new generations often refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than older generations. Westerners may refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than Easterners. Being conservative in the American context might be considered liberal in the Chinese context.
What does it actually mean to be more or less conservative (or liberal)? Is this a difference in cognitive processing? Or a social difference that we have picked up from the society around us?
Protecting vs. Providing Motivation
Liberals and conservatives differ in what motivates them. Studies with Western samples show that political lefties (liberals or progressives) tend to support policies that provide welfare for societies, whereas political conservatives tend to support policies that aim to protect their country from external harm. Such differences are rooted in the psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivations.
Approach motivation focuses on how we can gain benefits. In general, this motivation seeks to provide well-being by doing good things for ourselves and for others (prosocial behaviours). People with approach motivation are likely to support individual autonomy and social justice.
In contrast, avoidance motivation focuses on avoiding harms, and what we should not do. Generally, this motivation seeks to prevent harm and to stop bad behaviours. People with avoidance motivation are likely to be responsive to threat and support social regulations.
However, this does not mean that people have only one type of these motivations and not the other. We all have some degree of both motives, and all react to changing situations by adjusting our current motives, but may lean towards one side more overall.
More vs. Less Negative Sensitivity
Neurologists and psychologists have found a link between people’s political orientation and sensitivity to negative environments. This is known as the negativity bias. A negativity bias means that humans generally tend to pay more attention to negative things. For example, we are generally quicker at recognising angry faces than happy faces. Even though we all have a negativity bias, the degree of negativity bias may be different from person to person.
Researchers found that people with more conservative thoughts are more responsive to negative environments than their counterparts. These people are more likely to support policies that minimise harmful incidents (e.g., anti-refugees) or promote their country’s stability (e.g., support military enforcement, support local businesses).
In contrast, people with more liberal thoughts are more willing to support policies that provide social welfare (e.g., free access to medical care) or challenge conventional use of power and authority (e.g., rehabilitation of criminals).
It is important to note that the negative bias is evolutionarily beneficial, and everyone has it to a certain degree. People who live in more conflict-ridden and more dangerous environments may show more negative biases compared to people who live in a safer environment.
In summary, conservatism and liberalism are relative; they represent tendencies of thinking and behaviours, rather than absolute, unchanging characteristics. Those tendencies are rooted in individual psychological and physiological differences. However, they are also shaped by the cultural context and responsive to situational forces as well as group norms and leadership. In diverse environments, both conservatism and liberalism can be beneficial to a country.
- Gi Chonu
Rioting occurring after a football match is not an uncommon phenomenon. Longstanding hostility amongst football fan groups is a tradition worldwide. Hooliganism is a term that describes violent behaviour perpetrated by football spectators, and we find the phenomenon occurring across the globe. In extreme circumstances, death can be an outcome of such riots. For example, during Honduras’ 1969 World Cup qualification, 2,100 people died. In Indonesia, the country where I lived previously, hostility between two fan groups occurs between groups from two cities that are close together.
The most contemporary case of violent football riots in Indonesia resulted in the death of Haringga Sirila (23 years old) on 23 September 2018. The young man was a big fan of Persija, a football team of Jakarta. The violent hostility between the two fan groups remains a deep tradition, with seven people from the two groups having died since 2012. This hostility is not an isolated case and similar cases also occur in other cities around the country. However, the question arises: Why do they strike?
One line of work examines violent behaviour perpetrated by a group or a mass as “Amok” (or ‘running amok’): an analysis with historical roots in the Malay tradition.
A study conducted by Manuel L. Saint Martin of the University of Southern California, attributed this kind of mass violence in South East Asia to mental and personality disorders and extreme psychological distress.
Interpreting mass violence as ‘running amok’ is an explanation that points to feelings of frustration and violence as the effect of social or psychological pressure. But this explanation seems inappropriate to explain football fans’ rioting.
So what drives physical violence amongst football fans?
Another type of explanation draws on the psychology of groups. Social psychological research has shown that we have two kinds of identity: personal identity, representing our uniqueness and what distinguishes us from others (I am different from other people), and social identity, usually called a group identity. A social identity allows us to associate and bond with other people (e.g., ‘I am Australian’, or ‘I am a fan of this club’).
How are these personal and social identities related to the violence occurring amongst football fans? A great deal of research is exploring this question. One answer points to the relationship between personal and social identity, a concept called Identity fusion. It is a very deep sense of oneness with a group and its individual members that motivate pro-group behaviours - even personally costly ones.
The feelings of identity fusion are not just being strongly bonded with a group, but it is having deep emotional ties with other group members. These bonds are similar to familial bonds. Familial bonding usually occurs in a narrow context (e.g., with members of our nuclear family), but the concept of fusion can be extended to a larger group such as national group, religious group and of course, a football fan group.
But how can the feeling of oneness lead to intergroup violence?
Work on identity fusion suggests a number of factors facilitate the connection between the sense of oneness and violence.
For example, arousal has been established as a catalyst for those who have strong feelings of oneness with the group to engage in extreme behaviour. An experiment involving 245 students in Spain, showed that in a dodgeball game, stimulating arousal within the group resulted in more extreme behaviour on behalf of his/her group.
A second factor is called the personal agency principle, whereby an individual feels that he/she represents the group and is compelled to act on behalf of the group. Of course, not all pro-group actions are violent! But when people who feel fused with a group feel frustrated or threatened, the sense of being compelled to act even if extreme actions are needed means violence is more of a risk.
The death of a football fan in a riot, as in the case of Haringga, can be explained in this way. In a pre-match situation, the crowds in a stadium can create arousal, increasing the risk of violent behaviour for those whose personal identity is fused to the group, and who experience a sense of personal agency alongside collective threat or frustration.
In addition, previous studies show that shared painful past experience amongst group members may also play a role. Along with our colleagues (Martha Newson, Harvey Whitehouse, and Vici Sofiana Putera), we collected the data from 100 people of two conflicting fan groups in Indonesia (Bandung team and Jakarta team). Our focus was on the extent to which the shared painful experiences with fellow members can be a catalyst for the tendency to engage in violent behaviour on behalf of the group.
We found that the tendency to act extremely is more likely when a person had experienced feelings of oneness with the group, and especially when the members shared a painful past experience. In football rivalries, we know that, the fans of the two teams competing with each other, have shared the painful experience of violence from the other group. When one group’s violence promotes the second group’s fusion, which in turn is linked to their extremism or violence, a vicious cycle is initiated.
What can be done to stop violence among highly fused fans?
Identity fusion seems to rely on very strong ties, that are almost impossible to defuse. So, an “extreme’ approach to preventing violent associated with identity fusion is to dissolve the group itself. But, in most cases, this approach cannot be implemented. A more feasible approach may be changing the norm of the fan groups – i.e., their standards or rules for pro-group action.
Some football fans have norms of supporting hostility and violence. The key may be to change these norms, with the help of the football team itself and the football regulation boards, to promote positive norms. One example would be using the match as a way to raise funds for natural disaster victims around the country, or for children impacted by cancer, is a potential way to slowly and sustainably change the hostile norm associated with the match with a caring norm. The view of the competition is shifted so it is not only about the number of goals scored by the players, but also about the funds collected by the fans. This would strengthen the injunctive norm that football fans contribute positively to society. Similarly, many positive values such as fairness, peace and justice can be clearly seen in good sportsmanship, and if we promote these values, we can help fans groups to also extend these values to their rival teams.
- Susilo Wibisono & Whinda Yustisia
*The article is a version of an article written for and published by The Conversation Indonesia, on Sept 28, 2018.
This blog post is the third summarising a special issue of PAC:JPP on the role of social movements in bringing about (or failing to bring about!) political and social transformation. I co-edited the special issue with Cristina Montiel, and it is available online to those with access (or by contacting the papers’ authors or via ResearchGate). Our intro summarising all articles is also online ‘open access’ here, along with the first two blog posts, dealing with tipping points or breakthroughs in conflict and the non-linear nature of social transformation and the wildly varying timescales. Some of these themes are also dealt with in a 2018 chapter by our group *.
The overall aim of the special issue was to explore how social movements engage in, respond to, or challenge violence, both in terms of direct or physical violence and structural violence, injustice, and inequality. As well as the six papers summarised previously, there were four fascinating additional pieces by Montiel, Christie, Bretherton, and van Zomeren. Together the authors take up important questions about who acts, what changes, and how social transformation is achieved and researched, which I review below.
Who can participate in the scholarship of transformation?
Montiel’s (2018) piece “Peace Psychologists and Social Transformation: A Global South Perspective,” identifies barriers to full participation in the scholarship of peace. These barriers often include a relative lack of resources, and exposure to military, police, and non-state violence and trauma. In publishing, scholars and universities in the Global South face a difficult political environment in which both their silence and their speech may affect their careers and even their lives. More routinely, selection bias by journals to privilege the theoretical and methodological choices and agendas of the Global North marginalises the research questions that are most pressing, or most unfamiliar to WEIRD readers (Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic; Heinrich et al., 2010). In the short term, Montiel calls for professional bodies to open schemes for developing academics from the Global South; and for peace psychologists to co-design projects and conduct analyses and writing with southern scholars to allow a wider range of voices and ownership of the project.
What is it that changes in social transformation?
Van Zomeren’s (2018) piece “In search of a bigger picture: A cultural-relational perspective on social transformation and violence”, takes up his selvations theory as a springboard for understanding social transformation. He conceives the self as akin to a subjective vibration within a web of relationships (a selvation), which would both influence and be influenced by changing societies. Drawing on his earlier work on culture and collective action (e.g., van Zomeren & Louis, 2017), he suggests that the central challenge of the social psychology of social transformation is keeping the micro, meso, and macro-level variables in the same frame, and allowing emergent relationships within theoretical models.
In the van Zomeren model, the decision-making self is embedded within relationships, with the regulation of those relationships a central goal of the actor. Thus relational norms for violence (or peace) become proximal predictors of change – which in turn rest on wider social norms and expectations of opponents’ actions (see also Blackwood & Louis, 2017). Violence may affirm or contradict the relationship models of the actors creating social change, which manifests as changing relationships with others: movement co-actors, targets, and the broader community. Christie and Bretherton, below, also echo the contention that it would be useful for scholars and practitioners to consider more deeply how social change involves changing relationships and the self.
Five Components of Social Transformation
Christie (2018) presents an analysis of effective social transformation movements, arguing that there are five components that campaigners and scholars must engage. A systemic approach is the foundation of social transformation, he proposes: transformation entails the creative construction and destruction of existing relationships and the development of more or less just and violent new ones.
Sustainability is a second component: both the outcomes of a movement and its processes will last longer over time or less so. Momentary failures (and successes) are common; it is also the case that in the face of countervailing forces and counter-mobilisation, to sustain a positive status quo may require constant renewal and refreshment of social movement support.
Third, a movement must also have the capacity to scale up, which often requires new skills, leadership, and institutional support – or more broadly, the ideological and organisational foundation to build new alliances and engage new topics and opportunities without compromising its values and direction.
The fourth component of socially transformative movements is the inclusive involvement of those who are more powerless and marginalised: without active outreach and proactive inclusion, many movements re-invent old hierarchies and affirm old power structures.
Finally, Christie closes with an interesting reflection on the metrics of social transformation, and the different conclusions that one might draw in mobilising to achieve greater lifespan, wealth, well-being, and/or cultural peace.
Social Transformation: A How-To For Activists
Bretherton (2018) elaborates the implications for practitioners and activists, with practical tips on how to deal with power and (de)humanization within social movements. Two central messages are that social movements need to articulate their positive vision as well as what they are opposed to, and that they need to understand and articulate the structural or cultural violence that legitimises particular incidents or relationships.
In articulating their positive vision, the group develops the foundation for resilience and change as their movement grows in power and support. As new opportunities open up, a positive vision helps steer the direction of the movement towards its ultimate goals. In addition, social movements’ clear communication of the structural conditions which underpin violence or inequality has two further functions. A system-level analysis allows actors to avoid fixating on symptoms of structural inequality that cannot be effectively targeted in isolation. Also, such an analysis allows people who are disadvantaged by structural inequality to make external attributions for the harm and disadvantage they undergo, rather than lacerating self-blame, that can paralyse progress and make it harder to form coalitions and alliances. Symbolic affirmations of connectedness and equality can play a powerful role in de-legitimising violence and hierarchy.
Finally, beyond these core messages, Bretherton closes with tips on the ‘action research’ cycle of designing campaigns. Drawing on the special issue articles as well as a long career, Bretherton clearly lays out a series of wise insights. The four steps of the action cycle are preliminary observation and analysis of the social context, planning for campaign action (including developing the leadership team, building coalitions, and choice of tactics), implementation (including responding to unplanned problems), and review (e.g., proactively creating a culture of celebration and reflexivity). Managing expectations for a cycle of organisation, success, counter-mobilisation, and a longer term, ongoing struggle is also important, as Bretherton concludes.
I really enjoy the richness of the special issue, and it is exciting to see new scholarship in this emerging field (e.g., the recent special section of BJSP). The topic is vital from an applied perspective, but it is also incredible generative theoretically – the gaps are clearly evident when the literature is reviewed, and the potential for interdisciplinary synergy is high. I look forward to many more papers and journal issues in this vein.
- Winnifred Louis
* Louis, W. R., Chonu, G. K., Achia, T., Chapman, C. M., Rhee, J. (in press). Building group norms and group identities into the study of transitions from democracy to dictatorship and back again. In B. Wagoner, I. Bresco, & V. Glaveanu (Eds.), The Road To Actualized Democracy. Accepted for publication 12 December 2016.
The Social Change Yearly Lab Photo (Front row - left to right: Gi Chonu, Winnifred Louis, Susilo Wibisono, & Ella Cotterell. Back row – left to right: Vlad Bjorskich (visitor), Carly Roberts, Frederik Wermser (visitor), Cassandra Chapman, Kiara Minto, & Robyn Gulliver. Missing: Robin Banks, Zahra Mirnajafi, Tulsi Achia.
I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes:
For 2018, I have to salute a brilliant group of finishing students - Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Wei-jie (Kathy) Lin, Tracy Schultz, and Cassandra Chapman, who all submitted their PhD theses (whoohoo!). Lucy’s thesis has already been passed (Will Rifkin was the lead advisor), and she was off to the University of Edinburgh on a postdoc from mid-year: well done Lucy! Everyone else is grinding on through the bureaucracy, but this has not stopped them re career launch. Kathy is back with her job as an academic in China (with fresh glory; Shuang Liu was the lead advisor). Tracy Schultz was snapped up by the Queensland Department of the Environment and is making change on the ground (Kelly Fielding was Tracy’s lead advisor). Cassandra Chapman (co-supervised by Barbara Masser) is taking up a postdoc on trust and charities in UQ’s Business school. It’s a pleasure to see everyone doing so well, and we look forward to keeping in touch!
As well as from our fearless PhD completers, we saw Ella Cottrell and Carly Roberts both finish honours with flying colours; well done both! Many other students smoothly passed their other milestones (Gi, Zahra, Kiara, Susilo, Robyn), with Hannibal and Robin are coming up soon for their confirmations, and we wish them well. There were also those taking well-deserved leave this year (Gi, with maternity leave, and Tulsi, who is away for health reasons). We welcome these transitions and pauses and look forward to new accomplishments in 2019.
In other news: As planned, I revelled all year long in my professorship. It is such a luxury and privilege to be a full professor, and I hope I can continue to use my powers for good in 2019 and beyond.
I also have been revelling since the news broke that we succeeded in getting a new Discovery grant for our team, funded for 2019-2021. I’ll be working with Pascal Molenberghs, Emma Thomas, Monique Crane, Catherine Amiot, and Jean Decety, and we will be looking at the transition to Voluntary Assisted Dying in Victoria and more broadly at norms and well-being for practitioners and the community regarding euthanasia or palliative killing. It is a big beast of a grant and I am very excited to launch into it with our group.
Possibly the highlight of the year was when I ran an extraordinarily successful conference in 2018 on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation, with many others – many thanks especially to Susilo Wibisono, Sam Popple, Tarli Young, Jo Brown, and Hannibal Thai. We are moving slowly but inexorably towards having the talks online for speakers, and also slowly and more tentatively towards other publishing projects – We will keep you posted.
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteers and visitors for the social change lab in 2018, including Frederik Wermser, Claudia Zuniga, Taciano Milfont, and Kai Sassenberg. I particularly acknowledge the contributions this year of Vladimir Bojarskich (visiting from Groningen to conduct environmental research) to multiple projects and to my own work. Thank you, and congratulations everyone!
Other news of 2018 engagement and impact
As well as the normal dissemination through keynotes and journal articles (see our publications page), I had great fun this year with engagement. The superb conference on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation was a highlight, but I also want to note the November 2018 Zoos Victoria conference on social science and conservation at which I was lucky enough to give a keynote. My own talk was on avoiding stalemates and polarization, but I feel deeply thrilled about the new work coming through from conservation initiatives that I saw presented there – the scale, the rigorous evaluation, the behavioural measures, the impact! One intervention that we learned about at the conference was delivered to 40,000 school children in Victoria, with 8 focal targets (e.g., around reducing marine plastic pollution), and featured pre, post, and 6-month follow-ups that included counting plastics on beaches and in the bellies of shearwater birds – astonishing! But perhaps most impressive of all to me was the open disclosure of failures and willingness as a community of practice to learn from them. What a great research culture!
More broadly I am excited about how the new open science initiatives in 2018 are transforming scholarship, and pleased to report that our lab is now working towards consistency in pre-registration, online data sharing, transparency re analyses, and new commitment to open access. Those of you that follow me from way back know that I tried to create something similar in the 2000s but with little traction. The new wave of #openscience is clearly breaking through to change practices with more success. Paywalls by for-profit journals for tax-payer subsidised research are also ongoing and objectionable, and so it is great to see online repositories like Researchgate make connections to readers more feasible. But I also think that academic publishing is still clearly dominated by pressures for selective reporting and that significant results are much more likely to succeed in running the gauntlet through reviewers and editors. In that context, even more impressive is the leadership by practitioners and scholars who allow others to learn openly from trial and error. This will propel us forward as a field. Well done, Zoos Victoria!
Socialchangelab.net in 2018
Within the lab, Zahra Mirnajafi has been carrying the baton passed on by Cassandra Chapman, who started the blog and website last year – thank you to Zahra for all your great work with our in-house writers, our guest bloggers, and the site!
I continue to be surprised by the generosity of guest writers, and the take-up of our posts by the community. We are now seeing about 600 readers for each blog post within a week - last year it was 200 within a month! Part of the story has certainly been our lab’s activity on Twitter (and other social media) to promote research, and I hope you will follow @WlouisUQ and @socialchangelab if you are on Twitter yourself. In the meantime, we welcome each fresh bot, family member, academic, or community reader with enthusiasm, and hope to see the trend continue in 2019.
What the new year holds:
In 2019, for face to face networking, if all goes well, I’ll be at SASP in April in Sydney; the post-conference on contact in Newcastle in April/May; at SPSSI in June; at the APA conference in August; a peace conference in Bogota in July; and ICEP in September. Please email me if you’d like to meet up. I’ll also be travelling extensively from July 2019 to June 2020 due to a sabbatical – I plan visits to Europe (probably in September) and Canada/the US (probably in June and again in November-ish). I’ll be around Australia in Melbourne and Sydney as well as Adelaide for the new grant and for my last one, which is grinding on towards awesome publications – stay tuned. I hope people will contact me if interested in meetings and talks.
I also welcome one new student as an associate advisor in 2019 – Mukhamat Surya, who will be working with Adrian Cherney at UQ for a project on de-radicalisation and radicalisation. We also have Claudia Zuniga from the University of Chile as a visitor with us until June, woot!
Due to the sabbatical from July, I won’t be taking on new PhD students or honours students this year, but welcome expressions of interest for volunteer RAs and visitors.
And of course there are lots of other projects on the go throughout the lab with the bigger team – I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for us all!
- Winnifred Louis
(Don't) Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free: Understanding hostile attitudes towards immigration
In the past week, we have seen horrifying pictures from the U.S.-Mexico border where U.S. Border patrol has fired tear gas on asylum seekers from Central America. This is part of a new stance on immigration by the American White House, which includes deploying 5,000 US troops to the southern border, and giving the green light to use lethal force. While many are outraged at the use of such force by the government, others have been quick to defend the “America First” strategy. More broadly, anti-immigration sentiments have been expressed more frequently in a range of countries around the world, from France introducing stricter guidelines for asylum to Australia, where a sharp rise in anti-immigrant sentiment has been reported.
How can we explain antagonistic views towards immigrants and asylum seekers? While understanding perspectives on both sides is complex, recent research sheds light on the challenges associated with the reception of immigrants and refugees in Western countries.
“America First” ... the role of national identities
What we believe about who we are has a strong role in shaping our views of the world. In the U.S., proponents of using excessive force on asylum seekers justify this approach as putting America’s national interests first. What we know from the science is that those who believe being an American is an extremely important part of who they are, in other words, those who have a strong American identity, also are likely to have more negative attitudes towards immigrants.
Is connecting pro-America feelings with hostility to foreigners inevitable though? No.
First, it turns out that the link between stronger American identity and welcoming foreigners can also be positive for some! Americans who define the nation inclusively are more welcoming to newcomers, whereas those who have a narrower view of the country are more hostile.
When we are tough on immigration, are we tough on all immigrants in the same way?
Being tough on immigration is not applied the same way to White immigrants as it is to people of color. In one study, White Americans reported that the use of harsh punishment for a suspected undocumented immigrant was more fair when the suspect was Mexican, than when the suspect was Canadian.
Earlier we spoke about the content of identities, and that discussion is also relevant here. The more people understand being American as being Anglo, the more lenient they are with those who look Anglo. Around the world, the broader and more inclusive our understanding of what it means to be a citizen of a country, the more diverse people we would be willing to welcome as new immigrants and refugees.
The language we use has serious consequences
Finally, it is striking how the language used to describe asylum seekers and immigrants by politicians or news media can conjure up images of hordes of animals, scurrying towards us. This type of language is dehumanizing, and research shows it has serious consequences. Endorsing harsher immigration policies is one outcome of dehumanizing language and using dehumanizing language can increase anger and disgust towards immigrants. The use of vermin metaphors to describe Jews during the Holocaust comes to mind when we think of how dehumanizing language has been used to justify atrocities. Indeed, the use of such language is one of the precursors of genocide. Therefore, while news reports describing immigrants in animalistic language may go unnoticed, the reality is that this language has the potential to lead to dire consequences for the world we live in.
The topic of immigration is complicated and the challenges and opportunities of migration are important for both immigrants and the host societies that receive them. An evidence-based approach to understanding the issues and the sentiments on both sides are needed for our societies to move forward to a more socially cohesive and peaceful world.
- Zahra Mirnajafi
Who is most likely to give to charity?
If you ask a professional fundraiser, they will probably tell you their best prospects are women, older people, and the religious.
There is plenty of evidence to support such ideas. Generally speaking, women are more likely to donate money to charity than men are. People are more likely to give as they age. And people who identify as religious are more likely to be donors and also give more on average than secular people do.
But are such donors universally generous?
Much of the research on charity looks at overall patterns of giving. In other words, research typically asks who gives to any charity and how much donors give to all supported charities.
I’m more interested in which charities people support. And why.
In a recent series of studies on charitable giving, my colleagues and I collected data from 675 donors to evaluate whether demographics not only explain if someone gives, but also which charities they support.
Our results suggest (as we expected) that people do not give indiscriminately. Instead, they show preferences toward charities that align with the priorities of their social groups.
Older donors are more likely to likely to support religious charities. This may be because older people are more likely to attend religious services, and therefore have higher exposure to asks for religious causes and also spend time with people who also give.
Older people give more to health charities as well. Given the increasing health problems associated with age, older donors and their social groups are more likely to benefit from health-related giving.
Religious donors are more likely to support religious, welfare, and international charities but are less likely to support animal causes. These targets align with priorities of religious groups. In particular, most of our respondents were Christian. The Christian faith (similarly to many religions) promotes giving to help the vulnerable and needy and also prioritises humans over animals.
Politically conservative donors are less likely than progressive donors to support international causes. Such patterns of giving may reflect the higher rates of nationalism commonly found among conservatives.
Though only a first step towards understanding how donors select the charities they support, these findings suggest that different identities may motivate support for different kinds of charities. Donors are therefore not universally generous, but support causes that align with their priorities and the priorities of the important social groups they belong to.
- Cassandra Chapman
Read the full article:
Chapman, C. M., Louis, W. R. & Masser, B. M. (2018). Identifying (our) donors: Towards a social psychological understanding of charity selection in Australia. Psychology and Marketing.
* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
Young people across the world are growing up in environments marred by violent group-based conflict around religious, racial or political differences. These conflicts can have long-lasting effects, not only among survivors, but also for subsequent generations. These effects, however, need not only be negative; there are also constructive ways that young people react to conflict and its legacy. It is these constructive pathways that we have been researching amongst young people in Northern Ireland in our Altruism Born of Suffering project.
What is Altruism Born of Suffering?
Altruism born of suffering (ABS) is a theory that outlines the conditions under which individuals who have experienced risk or harm may be motivated to help others. Key dimensions include whether the harm was suffered individually (e.g., being beaten up) or collectively (e.g., bomb targeted at a community), and whether it was intentional (e.g., hate crime) or not (e.g., natural disaster). It is thought that individuals who experience harm or risk might engage in helping behaviours due to shared past experiences, common victim identity and increased empathy with other sufferers. Whether an individual helps or not might also be influenced by personal and environmental influences such as norms (unwritten rules about how to behave) and past intergroup contact experiences (how often an individual interacts with those from a different group and how positive those interactions are). We believe that understanding the processes underlying these positive pathways following adversity, especially among young people, may be the foundation for more constructive intra- and intergroup experiences that can help to rebuild social relations.
Youth as Peacemakers in Northern Ireland
As part of our project, we conducted a survey (in Autumn 2016 and then again in Spring 2017) amongst 14-15 year olds living in Northern Ireland (N = 466, evenly split by religion and gender) to examine how ABS might playout in a real-world conflict setting.
Participants, born after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, represent a ‘post-accord’ generation. Although not exposed to the height of the ‘Troubles,’ the most recent peak of intergroup violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, these young people still face ongoing sectarianism and annual spikes in tension.
We found that having friends who support youth to have friends from the ‘other’ group is really important in determining how much young people interact across group lines. Furthermore, having intergroup contact is associated with greater support for peacebuilding and being more engaged in society, and with lower participation in sectarian anti-social behaviours. Finally, when youth are exposed to a continued intergroup threat, they are more likely to engage in sectarian antisocial behaviours if families reinforce group distinctions and intergroup bias.
Our findings suggest that youth who are living with the legacy of protracted intergroup conflict can be supported to engage in constructive behaviours and that it is vital to recognise the peacebuilding potential of youth.
Guest post by Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones, University of Bristol, and Dr. Laura K. Taylor, University of Bristol.
Why do people do things that harm others?
Socially harmful behaviours, like discrimination and hate speech, are still common in modern society. But where do these behaviours come from?
According to self-determination theory, pro-social behaviours (like tolerance and fairness) come from within, because we have a personal desire to engage in them. In contrast, harmful acts are normally motivated by an external source, such as social pressure to conform.
For example, school bullying may be encouraged by those classmates that intimidate other students. In order to avoid being bullied, and also to become close to the popular children in school, some kids may also start bullying others.
To summarise, helping other people gives us real pleasure and enjoyment, while harming others only brings recognition from others and helps achieve our goals.
Even though discrimination is not truly motivated by our own values and beliefs, from this perspective, is it possible that harmful behaviour can become a part of our identity and represent who we really are?
Discrimination can be a consequence of social norms
One cause of discrimination are the social norms associated with the groups we belong to.
In an attempt to fit into society, we follow the norms of our own groups. These norms, however, are not always oriented to benefitting the interests of people in other groups.
For example, an organisation with racist norms that dictate choosing job candidates that belong to the Caucasian ethnic group rather than choosing based on qualifications, will motivate the recruiter to follow these norms and to discriminate against certain ethnic groups.
We may follow discriminatory norms in order to feel we fit in with our group, or that doing so promotes our group’s values or goals.
When a behaviour is considered normal in groups we belong to, but is actually inconsistent with what we personally believe in, this creates a sense of conflict within our identity.
Compartmentalisation helps us deal with inner conflict
This feeling of contradiction between our values and our situation reflects an underlying resistance to engage in harmful actions.
For example, a recruiter who personally believes that job candidates should be hired based on their merit will feel an internal conflict when following the firm’s discriminatory norm.
In response to inner conflict, we tend to separate the harmful (e.g., discriminatory) behaviour from other life situations and contexts. This is called compartmentalisation.
Going back to the example where Caucasian candidates are preferred when hiring, this would mean that the conflicted recruiter would restrict ethnic discrimination behaviour only to work situations and would not generalise it to other life contexts.
By using this compartmentalisation strategy, the harmful social behaviour is restricted to a particular life context and does not become representative of the entire person. From the self-determination perspective, compartmentalisation also protects one’s identity from negative evaluation.
People do not enjoy discriminating against others
Many people want to believe that human nature is inherently good, and that no one would willingly harm others and feel good about themselves. The results of our studies confirm that people who discriminate do not necessarily enjoy their actions harming others. Rather, they are more likely to feel an internal conflict when discriminating.
On this positive note, we conclude that harmful behaviors are somewhat more difficult to accept as a part of who we are. Although specific life situations may sometimes dictate discriminatory actions, they generally bring less pleasure and enjoyment. Instead, causing harm to others evokes feelings of internal conflict and dissociation, which the majority of us will try to minimise.
- Guest post by Ksenia Sukhanova and Catherine Amiot, Université du Québec à Montréal
Read full article:
Amiot, C. E., Louis, W. R., Bourdeau, S., & Maalouf, O. (2017). Can harmful intergroup behaviors truly represent the self?: The impact of harmful and prosocial normative behaviors on intra-individual conflict and compartmentalization. Self and Identity, 1-29.
Richard Lalonde recently discussed the dangers of focusing on the differences between groups. He says,
“The end result is that we are constantly exposed to information through the lens of social groups, and more often than not, in terms of “us and them.”
Social Identity Theory states that we define ourselves in terms of the different groups that we belong to, for example our nationality, our profession, or our generation. Unfortunately, however, studies exploring Social Identity Theory have shown that we are less accepting of information when it comes from groups of people that we consider to be different to ourselves.
We are less likely to trust information that comes from “them” rather than one of “us”.
This can become a problem when an authority group, like scientists, try to provide information about an important topic, like climate change, to a community group and the community members do not identify with the “scientists”.
Moving from “us” and “them” to “we”
Thankfully, there is way to overcome this bias.
The common in-group identity model proposes that we can ask people to focus on the things that are the same between themselves and others, rather than the things that are different. We can do this by making them aware of a group identity that they share. For example, if “Queenslander” and “Victorian” represent distinct social groups, “Australian” would represent a shared identity.
Essentially, “us” and “them” becomes “we”, which leads to increased trust and more willingness to accept information from the group.
To show how this can work, I conducted a study in 2014 to test the acceptance of information provided by scientists. The information was telling community members from South East Queensland that it is safe to drink water made from recycled waste water. I was trying to see whether the information would be more acceptable when I highlighted that the scientists and the community members shared an identity (i.e., that they all resided in south east Queensland and were therefore all “South East Queenslanders”).
The results showed that it did make the information more effective for those people that identified strongly as “South East Queenslanders”. That is, by making people aware of a shared identity, they were more accepting of the information and were more supportive of the idea of starting a recycled water scheme in south east Queensland.
Create a sense of “we” when communicating information
The take home message? Next time you need to share information with someone, find a social identity that you have in common and make that shared identity obvious in your communications!
By creating more “we” situations, we can help overcome some of the biases to the acceptance of important information.
- Tracy Schultz
Humans are endlessly learning. How to walk, which brand of coffee is tastiest, the best way to calm an angry child – you name it, humans are learning it.
Some learning is informal, while some is institutionalised. The education system – from kindergarten to university – provides a formal learning environment that can shape life-long outcomes, including job opportunities, salary, health and well-being.
Given the importance of learning, we’d better we sure we’re doing it right.
What shapes learning outcomes?
Is it intelligence, effort, genes, or something else that makes a successful learner?
We know that people function better when they feel good about themselves and feel socially connected to others. That’s just common sense, right?
Humans flourish when they feel they belong and when they feel appreciated for who they are.
So, what does this have to do with learning? Well, let’s think for a moment about schools and universities and other learning institutions… classes, friends, crowds, teams, noise – education is always delivered in incredibly social contexts.
If a person’s ability to learn is affected by their sense of belonging and connection to others, are education systems unduly privileging those students who ‘naturally’ fit in?
Unfortunately, the statistics would answer ‘yes’ to that question.
Social class, race, sexuality, and gender are still significant predictors of academic outcomes. And recent international surveys of tens of thousands of high school children revealed that about one fifth of them report feeling that they do not fit in at school.
The irony of education is that when we think of academic achievement, we often make the assumption that it is all about individual intelligence. The question of fit or belonging, rarely enters the equation.
And every week…every semester…and every year, grades, percentages and GPAs, accumulate to create an indelible academic profile, which either opens doors, or quietly but firmly shuts them.
A sense of fit
So, what does it mean to fit in? And how do we help students who feel they don’t fit it?
Fitting in is feeling like to you share something with the people around you, feeling that your sense of who you are – your identity – is positively aligned with the group.
Feeling that being a student is an important part of who you are, and that you identify as a student, is therefore vital for successful learning. So how can we help people claim their student identity, and feel more able to fit within their educational setting?
In a recent book chapter, we investigated this very question. We asked over 300 university students to rate how independent, appreciated and connected to others they felt, and then we asked them about how much they identified as a student, and also how satisfied they were with their academic performance. The data was collected at different time points across the semester.
Results showed exactly what we suspected – when students felt that their life at university promoted a sense of positive autonomy, and feelings of competence and appreciation, both their level of identification as a student and their academic satisfaction was reported to be higher.
Learning, both formal and informal, shapes both who we are now and who we can be in the future. And yet we often assume that learning is an individual endeavour, and we rarely stop to think about learning from a social perspective.
In fact, learning is one of the most social activities that humans do!
Looking at learning in this new way not only allows us to understand why some students get left behind, but will also help us to come up with ways in which we can design educational programs to ensure real learning opportunities for all.
- Sarah Bentley
Read the full article:
Greenaway, K., Amiot, C.E., Louis, W. R., & Bentley, S.V. (2017). The role of psychological need satisfaction in promoting student identification. In K. I. Mavor, M. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and Social Identity in Educational Contexts, pp. 176-192. Routledge : New York, USA.
In order to survive the potential chaos of our physical and social worlds, humans have developed a tremendous ability to find order in the chaos.
We do this by using the simple strategy of sorting information by looking for similarities and differences.
Whether it be the stars in the night sky above us, or the people who live around us, we are constantly grouping things animate or inanimate (a classic example of grouping).
We group others according to markers like species, age, apparent sex, skin colour, weight, facial features, and clothing. When we use these cues, we will perceive another as being similar or different.
Human enterprises such as the media and the social sciences also rely on sorting information according to similarity and difference. The end result is that we are constantly exposed to information through the lens of social groups, and more often than not, in terms of “us and them.”
The problem is that once things are categorised into social groups, there is a bias towards focusing on difference rather than similarity.
Media help propagate the cult of difference
The media, for example, tends to focus on how groups are different rather than similar to each other.
If we use recent media accounts to process information about Americans, we would think that are two basic types – Republicans and Democrats. They even have their own colours – red and blue.
Many media stories lead us to believe that there are huge differences between these two “types” of Americans, because they are focusing on their differences rather than their similarities.
Social scientists also search for differences, often neglecting larger similarities
And what about the social sciences? The science of psychology has developed to favour difference over similarity.
We set up studies to look for differences between experimental and control groups or between people from different existing social groups (e.g., Australian vs. Chinese). We are trained to conduct statistical analyses that involve testing for difference, but not for similarity.
Publications also tend to report studies that found “significant” differences between groups rather than studies that found no differences (i.e., the file drawer problem). The bigger the difference the better and so we often see visual representations of data that make differences appear larger than they are!
How can we focus on similarities?
Our paper concentrates on research and writing strategies that focus on similarities (without ignoring differences). Focusing on similarities is healthy for science and for the promotion of peaceful intergroup relations.
Following are a few research and writing strategies we highlight in our paper. We illustrate these strategies using some of our own cross-cultural data.
- Richard Lalonde
Read full article:
Lalonde, R.N., Cila, J., Lou, E. & Cribbie, R. A. (2015). Are we really that different from each other? The difficulties of focusing on similarities in cross-cultural research. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 21, 525-534.
After the recent US election people on the political left went into a frenzy mulling over all the reasons why Trump won.
Is America just full of racists? Are people scared of their economic prospects for the future? Are people sick of political corruption and want to “drain the swamp”? Has Government regulation gotten out of hand?
You heard all the discussions on the news, between your co-workers, and in your Facebook feed. Everyone had an expert opinion.
But what does the science actually say? Here are three factors that psychological and political science suggest explain Trump’s popularity.
1. Opposition to immigration rises in times of prosperity, not recession
We typically think that countries become more restrictive in their immigration policies when they suffer economically. Yet in the 4 years leading up to the 2016 election, the United States had steady growth in GDP, the job sector, and hourly pay rates.
With the economy doing so well, why did we see anti-immigrant sentiments flaring in this election cycle?
Despite common beliefs, research shows that that societies are actually more likely to oppose immigration when they are doing well economically. From America to Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, we see right-wing parties rising to power during periods of economic prosperity.
2. It’s not just the poor; the rich also oppose immigration
After the election you probably heard that the working poor of America were the ones that supported Trump because of his tough stance on immigration. They thought immigrants would steal their jobs.
But it’s not just the working poor, but also those doing quite well economically that are likely to oppose immigration. The research shows that, indeed, those with higher disposable income are just as likely to oppose immigration as those who have the least disposable income.
It’s suggested that this is partly driven by fear of future deprivation. However, the idea that the poor vote conservatively is not supported by data. In fact we find the median income of Trump supporters was $72,000 (compared to the national median of $56,000).
3. Conservative nostalgia for the ‘good old days’
“Make America great again” was the central slogan of Trump’s campaign. This glorification of the past is a common thread in the rise of right-wing parties.
Right-wing politicians tend to glorify the past and highlight how bad we’re doing in the present (even when it’s not objectively true). This creates a sense of urgency.
When people hear this type of talk they are more likely to support drastic changes and the right-wing parties that propose these changes.
The following clip, from Ava Duverney’s documentary the 13th (available on Netflix), highlights glorification of the past and the need to be tough in Trump’s election campaign (as well as the link to racist policing and crowd violence). Warning: strong language and violence.
So next time you hear your friends, family and media pundits arguing the rise of Trump and the Right, you’ll know at least three factors based on research as to how these parties, and these politicians rise to power!
- Zahra Mirnajafizadeh
“Allyship” has recently become a hot topic in the worlds of social justice agitation and movements for greater equality. Movements and campaigns like support for marriage equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, and men’s support for the Women’s March, have highlighted the role allies can play in social movements.
Who are allies?
Allies are people from privileged groups, working together with or on behalf of socially disadvantaged groups, to improve the status and conditions for the latter. Think of White people protesting side by side with Black Lives Matter protestors, men supporting women in demanding equal pay, and straight people joining marches for marriage equality in support of LGBTIQ groups.
Allyship is not a new phenomenon
Researchers have only started discussing allyship in recent years. Yet allies have been around for as long as social movements have. For instance, the suffrage movement in the United States was a movement that was supported by many influential men of the time. Similarly, White politicians were important allies of the African National Congress in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement.
What influences people to act as allies?
Social research shows that people generally tend to favour their own groups and communities. We are rewarded for actions that favour our own groups—perhaps through acceptance, recognition for being a valuable group member, receiving favours when in need, etc. On the flip side, if we favour the interests of other groups or communities, we risk criticism, rejection, suspicion, and ostracism.
Given this context, how do advantaged group allies come to create and sustain support for disadvantaged groups outside of their own group? We identify 5 factors.
1. Normalising influences early in life
Allies tend to have had normalising influences while growing up, in the form of positive parental influence, contact with relatives or members of the community who probably belonged to these socially disadvantaged groups (like having a gay uncle, or a Black teacher), and exposure through popular culture and entertainment.
2. Feeling empathy for disadvantaged people
Allies report feeling empathy towards people they knew who may have identified as gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans, or been a racial minority, and saw them struggling with their identity. Studies show this can happen because of greater abilities for perspective-taking. This empathy also comes from the ability to relate the experiences of people from disadvantaged groups, to their own experiences of distress from being slighted, excluded or discriminated against in some way.
3. Feeling angry about unjust systems
Allies report feeling anger or a feeling of resistance towards people or systems found to be oppressing or bullying the people they know. Research suggests that when new experiences and information challenge their internalised worldview, allies start to experience resistance and rejection of those systems.
4. Having had opportunities to help
Allies tend to have had opportunities to reflect and help. Some have had the chance to directly help disadvantaged groups. Others encountered information that lead to self-reflection on topics of systemic oppression. Perhaps such opportunities for activism arose during high school or university life. Early experience tends to be an important primer to later engagement in allyship.
5. Supporting progressive values
Allies tend to have liberal or progressive values and a pluralistic orientation. They are lower on sexual prejudice, and religiosity. Allies typically have a broad orientation towards egalitarianism and fairness, even if they have not had contact with people different from themselves. This orientation is strengthened through exposure to diverse people, new information, and opportunities to help. With time, they are able to integrate or become comfortable with accepting multiple views of the world, and apply that to their understanding of complex concepts of privilege, oppression, and the existence of multiple social identities and realities.
Do you recognise any of these characteristics and themes in your own journey as an ally? Feel free to comment and tell us more. Understanding the nature of allyship is at the heart of my ongoing PhD research.
Humans are social beings. We all belong to social groups - for example family, friends, colleagues, church choir, or even political parties.
When we commit to a group, we act in accordance to the group’s standards for behaviours, and add the group’s identity to our sense of self.
Some groups are more important to us than others, providing meaningful identities and even personal life goals. Religious or faith groups often work like that. Research has found links between religious beliefs and our attitudes towards life or even how we vote for political leaders and choose to support national policies. In general, being part of a religious group or faith is linked to higher well-being.
Life changes can make group memberships toxic
Yet sometimes group memberships can become toxic or undesirable for a person. Faith groups are no exception. For example, one participant in our study was rejected by their local church and congregation after they married their same-sex partner.
More broadly, life events such as migration or marriage, or societal events such as natural disasters or political revolutions, can introduce new environments and motivate changes to attitudes, beliefs and identities. Such changes may mean that our groups no longer ‘fit’ us.
Leaving toxic groups may preserve well-being
We conducted research with Americans who have had different experiences with religions. We asked people aged over 30 about their faith at age 20 and today, and compared people who have left their faith and become non-religious (n = 36) with those who maintained the same faith (n = 96).
Among other things, we were interested in to what extent being rejected by the faith group would affect their well-being today.
Our results show that being rejected at age 20 by people in their faith group was associated with lower well-being in the present (more than 10 years later) for people who continued with their faith. However, for those who left a faith group, the rejection did not do ongoing harm.
Such results affirm one reason why our social identities can be changed or lost. Previous research on identity loss has mostly focused on its harmful effects, such as increased depression and mortality. Here, however, we show that identity loss can sometimes be a buffer to protect our well-being from threats in a toxic group.
When groups become toxic, leaving the group can protect psychological well-being.
On a psychological level, the findings show how losing group membership can be beneficial in certain circumstances, where the benefits of abandoning a particular group membership outweigh the benefits of maintaining it. However, changes in faith have broad and far-reaching consequences. Understanding changes in religious and political affiliation is the topic of my PhD research.
- Gi Chonu
* * *
Chonu, G. K., Louis, W. R., Haslam, S. A., (2017). When groups reject us: Testing buffering effects of identity change and multiple group memberships. Manuscript in preparation.
What makes a movement?
Is it hanging a banner on a coal stack? Flying a drone over a whaling ship? Chants and marches? Or minutes, agendas, and long, repetitive planning meetings?
Who makes a movement?
Are they the paid staff with funds and strategic plans? Your neighbour giving an hour a week in their after work time? The local team planting trees in their reserve on a Saturday afternoon? Or people sitting and sharing links and posts on social media?
Defining the environmental movement: who’s who, and what they do
Research about these questions has tended to focus on the operations of groups that shout the loudest. These groups are frequently those that are skilled at attracting media attention as part of their tactics, are the easiest to study, and have the systems in place to support external research. As a result Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and other large multinational groups feature predominantly in the environmental movement literature.
But is that image of a Greenpeace banner down a coal stack, or a 350.org rally with shouting, placard holding people really representative of what environmentalism in the field actually is? What about what everybody else is doing?
There is a lot more to the environmental movement than its biggest, most vocal players.
A closer look at what’s going on in the environmental movement in Australia quickly uncovers the overwhelming diversity of issues, approaches and actors that together create this movement.
Over 500 groups with websites across Australia are active in some form of environmental advocacy—spanning diverse issues including pesticide use, population growth, climate change, catchment management, feral dog management and species conservation. If we add in those only using social media and word of mouth to promote their cause, then in fact thousands of groups, made up of tens of thousands of members and supporters are active in some way in creating this movement.
What of campaigning, that classic approach to building a movement?
Over 700 active campaigns are being promoted via Australian based websites. These range from local issues against coal mines to complex national campaigns focusing on marine protection, clean energy and land clearing. They involve tree planting, placard waving, wildlife rescue and letter writing. It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot going on.
The vast majority of environmental groups in Australia have no paid staff, do not receive any substantial media attention, and do not use protest techniques or direct action to promote their cause.
While they may not ‘win’ all, or even many, of their causes, clearly there is something special about the environmental movement that has united such a diversity of voices in such a short span of time. I’d like to get a sense of the collective action tactics and strategies used by these campaigning groups and the failures and successes that they are experiencing in the course of their activities. My PhD research aims to look under the surface of the latest protest banner and begin to understand why, what and who actually makes the environmental movement the global phenomenon that it has become today.
- Robyn Gulliver
Eat your five serves of fruit and vegetables! Get your 30 minutes of exercise! Drink responsibly!
There’s no shortage of messages telling us how to be healthy. But do we action them?
Health habits solidify during young adulthood and have knock-on effects for later life. University students may be particularly vulnerable to forming bad habits. Young people are responsible for their diets for the first time, but also under time pressure and economic strain. University students also experience other pressures, such as peer pressure to drink excessively or to engage in other risky behaviours.
So are young people building healthy habits at University?
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Students’ engagement in health behaviours actually declines over the course of their studies. The link between students and excessive drinking is also well-known.
If students are so smart, why do they do so many dumb (unhealthy) things?
When students identify with the student group, they may act in line with the norms of that group. Because student norms tend to favour unhealthy behaviours, students end up engaging in unhealthy behaviours.
In a recent book chapter, we distilled key lessons from social psychology and discussed how these insights could be used to change behaviour.
People engage in behaviours seen to be central or defining of their group
Health behaviours are not simply personal choices but rather reflect habits that are part and parcel of belonging to particular groups. These behaviours can have negative or positive consequences depending on which behaviours have become tied up with group membership. As an example, consider how the central role in the national psyche of the full English breakfast or the meat-laden Australian BBQ determines day-to-day food choices and compare this to the classic Mediterranean diet or the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in Japan.
Students often describe behaviours with negative implications for health – such as excess alcohol consumption – as ‘normal’ within the university context. Many have expectations about these norms even before they step foot on campus. So, when students are thinking about themselves as a student, being healthy is not at the forefront of their minds – in fact, the opposite is clearly the case.
Efforts to change student behaviour that make student identity salient may backfire because student identity does not promote health behaviour.
Those who want to change student behaviour need to encourage students to see themselves in terms of another identity for which healthy behaviour is expected – such as athletic identities – or make health behaviour more central to what it means to be a student.
Changing group norms is no easy task
If unhealthy behaviours are seen as central to what it means to be a group member – such as students and drinking – group members may be very resistant to attempts to change their behaviour, even if such change would improve their health.
Norms themselves are quite complex. They have both a descriptive element (what is commonly done) and a prescriptive element (what should be done). And these two elements don’t always align. For example, students might approve of more responsible drinking but still go out and binge drink anyway!
When these descriptive and prescriptive elements are in conflict, people tend to go along with what their group actually does, rather than what their group thinks should be done. So, if people try to change one element without paying attention to the other, these efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive.
If you want to encourage health behaviours, you need to communicate that the group both approves of healthy behaviour and actually engages in that behaviour.
Change agents should try to frame identities and norms in ways that communicate that being a student means being healthy. And work with students on health messages to ensure that these are credible and acceptable.
We believe that bringing a stronger understanding of how social factors shape students’ choices about their health allows us to unlock the full potential of groups so that these become a positive – rather than a negative – force for students’ health behaviours. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!
- Joanne Smith (Guest blogger and Social Change Lab collaborator)
Read the full article:
Smith, J. R., Louis, W. R., & Tarrant, M. (2017). University students’ social identity and health behaviours. In K. Mavor, M. J. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and social identity in educational contexts (pp. 159-174). London: Routledge.
Statistics is a useful tool for understanding the patterns in the world around us. But our intuition often lets us down when it comes to interpreting those patterns. In this series we look at some of the common mistakes we make and how to avoid them when thinking about statistics, probability and risk.
1. Assuming small differences are meaningful
Many of the daily fluctuations in the stock market represent chance rather than anything meaningful. Differences in polls when one party is ahead by a point or two are often just statistical noise.
You can avoid drawing faulty conclusions about the causes of such fluctuations by demanding to see the “margin of error” relating to the numbers.
If the difference is smaller than the margin of error, there is likely no meaningful difference, and the variation is probably just down to random fluctuations.
2. Equating statistical significance with real-world significance
We often hear generalisations about how two groups differ in some way, such as that women are more nurturing while men are physically stronger.
These differences often draw on stereotypes and folk wisdom but often ignore the similarities in people between the two groups, and the variation in people within the groups.
If you pick two men at random, there is likely to be quite a lot of difference in their physical strength. And if you pick one man and one woman, they may end up being very similar in terms of nurturing, or the man may be more nurturing than the woman.
You can avoid this error by asking for the “effect size” of the differences between groups. This is a measure of how much the average of one group differs from the average of another.
If the effect size is small, then the two groups are very similar. Even if the effect size is large, the two groups will still likely have a great deal of variation within them, so not all members of one group will be different from all members of another group.
3. Neglecting to look at extremes
The flipside of effect size is relevant when the thing that you’re focusing on follows a "normal distribution" (sometimes called a “bell curve”). This is where most people are near the average score and only a tiny group is well above or well below average.
When that happens, a small change in performance for the group produces a difference that means nothing for the average person (see point 2) but that changes the character of the extremes more radically.
Avoid this error by reflecting on whether you’re dealing with extremes or not. When you’re dealing with average people, small group differences often don’t matter. When you care a lot about the extremes, small group differences can matter heaps.
4. Trusting coincidence
Did you know there’s a correlation between the number of people who drowned each year in the United States by falling into a swimming pool and number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in?
If you look hard enough you can find interesting patterns and correlations that are merely due to coincidence.
Just because two things happen to change at the same time, or in similar patterns, does not mean they are related.
Avoid this error by asking how reliable the observed association is. Is it a one-off, or has it happened multiple times? Can future associations be predicted? If you have seen it only once, then it is likely to be due to random chance.
5. Getting causation backwards
When two things are correlated – say, unemployment and mental health issues – it might be tempting to see an “obvious” causal path – say that mental health problems lead to unemployment.
But sometimes the causal path goes in the other direction, such as unemployment causing mental health issues.
You can avoid this error by remembering to think about reverse causality when you see an association. Could the influence go in the other direction? Or could it go both ways, creating a feedback loop?
6. Forgetting to consider outside causes
People often fail to evaluate possible “third factors”, or outside causes, that may create an association between two things because both are actually outcomes of the third factor.
For example, there might be an association between eating at restaurants and better cardiovascular health. That might lead you to believe there is a causal connection between the two.
However, it might turn out that those who can afford to eat at restaurants regularly are in a high socioeconomic bracket, and can also afford better health care, and it’s the health care that affords better cardiovascular health.
You can avoid this error by remembering to think about third factors when you see a correlation. If you’re following up on one thing as a possible cause, ask yourself what, in turn, causes that thing? Could that third factor cause both observed outcomes?
7. Deceptive graphs
A lot of mischief occurs in the scaling and labelling of the vertical axis on graphs. The labels should show the full meaningful range of whatever you’re looking at.
But sometimes the graph maker chooses a narrower range to make a small difference or association look more impactful. On a scale from 0 to 100, two columns might look the same height. But if you graph the same data only showing from 52.5 to 56.5, they might look drastically different.
You can avoid this error by taking care to note graph’s labels along the axes. Be especially sceptical of unlabelled graphs.
- Winnifred Louis and Cassandra Chapman
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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